Honoree Spotlight

Henri Landwirth: Giving Kids the World

After facing the threat of death almost every day as a child imprisoned in concentration camps during the Holocaust, Henri Landwirth decided to dedicate his life to helping disadvantaged and terminally-ill children regain their childhoods.

“I had no idea that I would be living” said Henri in a video interview. “These children have no idea in many cases.”

On the Ground
Henri Landwirth – 2002 Humanitarian Award 

Impact to date:

115,000 families from over 70 countries have visited the park.


to fulfill the wishes of all children with life-threatening illnesses and their families from around the world

Words of Wisdom:

“In many cases I see myself in these children’s faces,”

Born in Belgium in 1927, Henri was only 13 when he and his family were forced to move into concentration camps. Over the next five years, he was separated from his family and saw friends starved, beaten and killed. Then, in 1945, 18-year-old Henri was brought in front of a firing squad; but miraculously, the soldiers lowered their rifles and told him to run. He ran until he collapsed.

A Czechoslovakian couple found Henri and nursed him back to health, telling him that the war was finally over. Eventually, he was reunited with his twin sister, Margot, after searching multiple refugee camps. Tragically, however, neither of his parents survived, his mother dying aboard a ship months earlier.

“It’s only a miracle that I am alive today,” Henri said.

In 1950, Henri worked aboard a freight ship heading to the United States and arrived at Ellis Island with only $20 in his pocket. After being drafted into the army upon his arrival, Henri used his G.I. rights to enroll in hotel management courses, eventually finding a job at a hotel in New York City.

For the next 50 years, he developed a successful career in the hotel industry. In 1986, he retired to devote himself to helping those in need by founding several foundations and nonprofit organizations. One of these is Give Kids The World, a 70-acre resort in Central Florida where children with life-threatening illnesses and their families can escape from life’s hard realities for a week.

“He turned [his past experiences] around and basically gave back what had been taken from him,” said Neal McCord, the Director of Facilities at Give Kids the World.

Visitors can swim, go horseback riding and even visit the area’s surrounding theme parks, like Disney World and Universal Studios.

“In many cases I see myself in these children’s faces,” Henri said.

Many families who visit the park notice a change in their children, seeing them laugh for the first time in months and gain energy from being in the resort.

“We prolong their lives,” said Henri in a Today Show interview with Katie Couric. “In many cases, they live for many months to come after they come here.”

In 2002, Henri was honored for his incredible dedication to children with a World of Children Humanitarian Award. To date, more than 115,000 families from over 70 countries have been given a cost-free vacation at Give Kids The World Village.

Today, Henri continues to serve children in need. In 2000, he founded Dignity U Wear to provide new clothing and hope to children and families who have been homeless, abused, neglected or abandoned. Most recently, he started the Hate Hurts initiative to teach young people the importance of forgiveness and putting an end to acts of hatred.

“I lost my childhood because I didn’t go to school and was in camps. I was so angry, I was in pain,” said Henri. “When that hate completely left me, forgiveness came along and I became a completely different person.”

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